Erlend Fagerli is one of the most renowned freestyle footballers in the world.
Fagerli has been a major part of the sport for over 13 years, with his hard work and dedication earning him eight world championships.
The 25-year-old Norwegian hopes to win his ninth title at the 2022 Red Bull Street Style world final, which takes place on October 8 in Pula, Croatia.
And he hasn’t made the journey on his own. Together with his brother, Brynjar, the Fagerlis have risen to the very top of the sport.
It began in May 2009 when, at the ages of 11 and 14, Erlend and Brynjar turned to YouTube for their entertainment. They stumbled upon freestyle football videos and instantly fell in love with the sport.
“It was as if something clicked inside of us because we always wanted to do something special,” Erlend told CNN Sport.
Inspired by what they saw, the Fagerli brothers followed their urge to try something new and grabbed the closest football to begin practicing. Stemming from an already built-in admiration for football, the transition to freestyle was easy for Erlend; playing both regular and freestyle for a few years before giving his all to freestyle football.
After only seven years of being involved in the sport, Fagerli went on to win his first world title at the 2016 Superball; but the win that stands out most for him didn’t come until Superball 2018, when he won for a second time.
“It’s really something special to manage to do it once again and to prove that you are not just a one take freestyler, but that you’re here for the long run,” he said.
Despite his repeated successes, Fagerli expresses his aim is not only to win championships, but rather his “biggest goal is always to try to improve in freestyle and to explore how good we can become.”
To push himself to new heights, Fagerli trains at least once a day, with the first 10 minutes spent doing nothing but thinking: “During those 10 minutes, you have activated your mind, and maybe, you can discover something during the session.”
This is vital time which aids in his conceptualization of tricks and allows him to create routines advanced enough to win back-to-back world titles, as he did at Red Bull Street Style 2020 and 2021, followed by the 2021 Superball tournament.
Both Erlend and Brynjar began their freestyle football journeys on the same day, and the duo never stopped training together.
Throughout their careers, they have been partners and rivals and, naturally, freestyle football became something that bonded the two brothers even closer together.
“It has been like a brother project for us to explore our limits in freestyle, and we’ve done that for over 13 years now,” Erlend explained. “I don’t even know if I would even have started if he hadn’t existed … we always supported each other, even though we are rivals as well, so it’s been so important for me.”
However, it wasn’t always easy for Erlend to have an older brother paving the way. There were also times of discouragement.
“In the beginning of freestyle, Brynjar was older and taller, and he was improving so much faster than me … So I was actually about to quit at that moment.”
Feeling like he was falling behind, Fagerli did the only thing he could do: he practiced.
After setting up his camera, he successfully performed the ‘alternative mitch around the world’ for the first time. The trick consists of kicking the ball into the air twice while whipping both legs around the ball, all while being mid-air.
Upon realizing he had completed the feat which would become essential to his burgeoning freestyle journey, the emotions overwhelmed Fagerli as he broke down in tears of joy.
From that point on, it was onwards and upwards for Fagerli. The Norwegian is not only at the top of his game, but at the top of the sport, putting him in a position where other competitors look towards him for guidance and inspiration – and he has noticed his impact on freestyle football.
There are three main formats of the sport: ‘uppers’ (doing tricks with your upper body), ‘lowers’ (doing tricks with your lower body) and sit-downs (doing tricks while seated).
Prior to Fagerli’s contribution to freestyle, these were mainly divided into separate routines. However, in 2014, Fagerli thought up something new. “I kind of introduced the transitions as well, which is how you get in between these parts, so I think one influence for me is that we can combine everything into one flow.”
Being able to influence how the sport is performed is a big part of what makes freestyle fun for Fagerli. Seeing younger freestylers performing his tricks and concepts is “such a good feeling,” as he hopes they can use it as inspiration to find their own way.
Fagerli has been traveling around the globe winning world-class tournaments since 2016, and he doesn’t know when he’ll stop, but his sights are set on the 2022 Red Bull Street Style championship.
If Fagerli triumphs in the upcoming event, he will be the first athlete to win three back-to-back Red Bull Street Style titles.
“Anything can happen and it’s always so interesting how the other freestylers do as well because there are so many new guys which are very promising … But, of course, my aim is to top last year’s performance.”